BROWNSBURG — As Purdue-bound forward Caleb Furst went to the rim for a dunk early in Wednesday’s matchup between the Indiana Senior All-Stars and Indiana Junior All-Stars, a future rival was there to meet him.
At 6-foot-5, Indiana 2022 commitment C.J. Gunn gave up close to five inches against the 6-10 Furst, who earned Mr. Basketball honors in 2021 after averaging 21.4 points for Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian.
But with a 33-inch vertical leap, Gunn had the hops to meet Furst above the rim and block his shot.
“I knew he was Mr. Basketball, so I know I’m going to block it. So I just jumped out there with him,” Gunn said. “I’m not scared of anybody at the rim.”
The block was the highlight of Gunn’s performance for the Juniors on Wednesday night at Brownsburg. Gunn finished with six points, four rebounds and three blocks in 22 minutes. It’s clear Gunn’s perimeter game needs work. He went 2-of-13 from the floor, with the two baskets coming on a dunk driving down the lane and a 12-footer in traffic.
“The mid-range is a great part of my game — and my athleticism,” said Gunn, who averaged 13.8 points for Class 4A state runner up Lawrence North last season. “But I think what I have to develop is my shot consistency and my ball handling.”
To accomplish that, Gunn expects to spend plenty of extra time in the gym shooting — two to three times per day to get ready for his summer season with the Indy Heat.
“I’m just getting ready to try to build that over the summer for July for Peach Jam and really show what I can do,” Gunn said.
Gunn first committed to IU based on his relationship with Archie Miller but stuck with his pledge after Miller was fired based on his conversations with new IU coach Mike Woodson.
“He’s committed to me, and he believes in me and what I can bring to the program, and obviously he has NBA experience. He played in the league, coached in the league for multiple years,” Gunn said. “So I think he’s going to really develop me as a freshman and however long I stay there.”
Another factor that played into Gunn’s decision to keep his commitment was the hiring of new associate coach Dane Fife, who recruited Gunn while he was an assistant at Michigan State.
“I love all the coaches, Coach Fife, Coach Hunter, Coach Woodson. I think they all show me love every day, and they obviously care about me and believe in me,” Gunn said.
Gunn comes from basketball bloodlines. His cousin, the late Herm Gilliam, was a guard on Purdue’s 1969 NCAA runner-up team, who went on to an eight-year NBA career and won a championship ring with the Portland Trail Blazers in 1977. His older sister, Lauren Gunn, is another former Lawrence North standout who is entering her sophomore season on the Valparaiso women’s basketball team. Gunn admitted one-on-one games between brother and sister growing up sometimes got heated.
“She’s the one that taught me how to bring that dog out in me,” Gunn said. “We obviously were playing back and forth, crying, bleeding. That’s my No. 1 supporter and my best friend. I love her to death.”
Gunn’s competitive spirit has been forged over time. He grew up playing both youth football and basketball in Fishers, before gravitating to basketball. Gunn’s father, Chris, recalled C.J. going on a foreign exchange trip to France when he was in fifth grade. After young C.J. was invited to play in the youth basketball leagues overseas, he spent the majority of the weekends in the gym, making new friends on foreign soil based on his basketball-playing ability.
“He’s had a passion for the game that’s stood out since day one,” Chris Gunn said.
That was apparent during Gunn’s sophomore season at Lawrence North, when he tore ligaments in his thumb. Rather than undergo season-ending surgery, Gunn opted to let the injury heal naturally so he could come back later in the season. He returned for the playoffs, playing limited minutes with his hand in a wrap during the sectional, and was prepared to return to the starting lineup before the rest of the 2020 tournament was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It showed a level of maturity on his part, and it was his decision,” Chris Gunn said. “He trusted in his body that it would be able to heal because he wanted to return and play.”
Chris Gunn said there are times he drives his son two hours, down to Louisville or across the border to Ohio, for pickup games in order for C.J. to measure himself against the best players in the region.
“C.J. is a competitor,” he said. “I would say that is one of his super powers. He just enjoys getting out on the court and competing.”